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Smart Prosthetics Grants

On April 10, 2007, the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative announced the recipients of its 2006 Futures Grants, each in the amount of up to $75,000 to support interdisciplinary research on smart prosthetics. The 16 projects that were awarded funding represent a wide range of approaches to research on such assistive devices, which was the subject of the fourth Futures ConferenceSmart Prosthetics: Exploring Assistive Devices for the Body and Mind, held last November in Irvine, Calif.  Hunter Peckham, conference chairman and professor, Case Western Reserve University, said, "We received many creative proposals and believe we have selected the best research projects to pursue." 

These competitive seed grants aim to fill a critical gap for research on bold new ideas.  Major federal funding programs do not typically provide grants in areas that are considered risky or unusual. The Futures grants allow researchers to start developing a line of inquiry by recruiting students and postdoctoral fellows, purchasing equipment, and acquiring preliminary data all of which can position the researchers to compete for larger awards from other public and private sources.

A mid-cycle meeting of Smart Prosthetics grantees was held on June 18-19, 2008 in Cleveland, OH, immediately following the Neural Interfaces conferenceUpdates from the meeting will be posted as they become available.

The award recipients and their grant research topics are (names and affiliations at the time the grants were awarded):

Neuromodulation of the External Urethral Sphincter to Promote Voiding After Spinal Cord Injury - $75,000
Following spinal cord injury, in addition to loss of locomotion, normal bladder function is also lost. Although the bladder is able to contract, the external urethral sphincter (EUS) is hyperactive and rather than relaxing, as occurs during normal voiding, the EUS contracts and prevents voiding. These researchers propose to use microstimulation of specific areas of the spinal cord to produce EUS inhibition and thereby restore normal bladder emptying.

MICHAEL F. DORMAN, Arizona State University, Tempe
PHILLIP M. GILLEY, University of Colorado, Boulder
Brain Activity in Response to Sound: Cross-Validation of Source Localization Using Three Imaging Techniques - $50,000
These researchers aim to compare the cortical localization of brain responses to speech using invasive and noninvasive techniques. The results of these comparisons will develop clinically useful, noninvasive techniques for studying brain function in children who wear a neural prosthesis for hearing.

JENNIFER ELISSEEFF, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore
HUGH HERR, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
Novel Adhesive for the Prosthesis-Limb Interface - $75,000
These researchers are exploring a biomedical problem, the interface between prostheses and the body. From long-term integration between metal and skin or bone to short-term challenges such as avoiding slippage and resulting sores, achieving appropriate prosthesis integration is critical for optimal function.

WILLIAM J. FOSTER, University of Houston
PAUL A. JANMEY, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Retinal Prosthetics: The Effect of the Elastic Modulus of the Extracellular Matrix on the Development of Differentiation of Specialized Neurons in the Retina - $75,000
How do the cells become organized in the retina and brain?  These researcher propose to utilize techniques from polymer chemistry, physics, and developmental biology to evaluate the effect of the elastic modulus or "softness" of the surrounding material on the development of retinal stem cells and organization of the retina.

JOSEPH T. FRANCIS, StateUniversity of New York, DownstateMedicalCenter, Brooklyn, New York City
DrexelUniversity, Philadelphia
JOSE M. CARMENA, University of California, Berkeley
Comparing and Contrasting Electrophysiological Properties of and Biological Response to Chronically Implanted Electrode Arrays - $75,000
These researchers aim is to replace the sense of touch with direct electrical stimulation to the sensory thalamus while testing a new electrode array with multiple contacts along each shaft, and comparing its recording ability and biocompatibility with the standard micro-wire array as well as the Cyberkinetics array.

ROBERT C. FROEMKE, University of California, San Francisco
PHILLIP LEVIS, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.
A Wireless Device for Studying the Neural Circuitry of Social Behavior - $25,000
Social behaviors such as maternal care are important functions of the brain. However, because of technical limitations, little is known about the neural circuitry of social interactions.  These researchers propose to improve the design of a smart prosthetic brain stimulator, and test it by trying to enhance maternal behavior.

R. BRENT GILLESPIE, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
JOSE LUIS CONTRERAS-VIDAL, University of Maryland, College Park
MARCIA K. O'MALLEY, RiceUniversity, Houston
PATRICIA A. SHEWOKIS, Drexel University, Philadelphia
Feedback Control for Smart Prosthetics: An Integrated Electrophysiological and Near-Infrared Methodology - $75,000
This project will produce insight into the neural mechanisms governing adaptation to sensory feedback from a prosthesis. The researchers will track brain activity while subjects perform simple object lifting tasks with a prosthesis that selectively provides tendon vibration (inducing joint motion percepts) and force feedback (unloading muscles in the upper arm).

ELIAS GREENBAUM, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tenn.
MARK S. HUMAYUN, University of Southern California - Keck School of Medicine / The Doheny Institute, Los Angeles
Metabolic Prosthesis - $75,000
Ischemia is a condition in which blood flow and oxygen is restricted in part of the body.  Diabetic retinopathy is an example of an ischemic disease.  These researchers propose to develop a metabolic retinal prosthesis to deliver oxygen to the ischemic retina.

WARREN M. GRILL, DukeUniversity, Durham, N.C.
DAVID C. MARTIN, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
In Situ Polymerized Interfaces for Peripheral Nerve Recording and Stimulation - $75,000
This project will to determine the feasibility of polymer (rubber) electrodes to record electrical signals from and deliver electrical stimulation to peripheral nerves.  The system to be used includes liquid electrodes that harden after injection into the body to enable minimally invasive electrical interfaces with peripheral nerves for applications in prosthetic devices.

SARAH C. HEILSHORN, StanfordUniversity, Stanford, Calif.
A Novel Biomaterial That Can Be Remodeled by the Nervous System - $75,000
The goal of this research is to develop a new biomaterial that can be used to promote regeneration of the central nervous system.  Unlike traditional biomaterials, which biodegrade over time in an uncontrollable manner, this new biomaterial will be able to be remodeled and degraded directly by the regenerating nerves.

JOERG LAHANN, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
JENNIFER ELLISSEFF, JohnsHopkins University, Baltimore
Interfacing Embryonic Stem Cells With Synthetic Prosthesis - $75,000
Embryonic stem cells hold great promise in regenerative medicine and bio-prostheses.  This will require completely defined cellular microenvironments.  Based on novel biointerface technology, these researchers will create a 3D scaffold that supports undifferentiated growth of human embryonic stem cells and design biointerfaces that can regulate the cells differentiation into neurons.

CATO T. LAURENCIN, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
CHALLA S.S.R. KUMAR, LouisianaStateUniversity, Baton Rouge
APARNA GUPTA, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y.
LAKSHMI S. NAIR, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
Universal Smart Coatings for Prosthetics - $75,000
Infection is a dangerous complication after surgery to place a prosthesis. These researchers plan to develop a method to make the prosthesis itself a controlled drug delivery system. By means of an alternating magnetic field, the controlled release of an antibiotic will be regulated to turn on and off as needed.

GERALD E. LOEB, University of Southern California, Los Angeles
Biomimetic Tactile Sensors and Grip Control Strategies - $75,000
Prosthetic and robotic hands need robust touch sensors and clever control strategies to help them interact with objects.  This project will develop a new class of sensors that draws inspiration from the deformable shapes of real finger pads, nail beds, etc., and the dexterous hand behaviors that have been studied in human subjects.

RANDALL J. NELSON, The University of Tennessee Health Science Center
Workshop on new frontier in research on sensorimotor transformations -- $25,000
The workshop will bring together NIH funded neuroscientists working on the
neural basis of sensorimotor control, investigators developing cortical neuroprothesthics, and neurologists specializing in somatosensory disorders to identify scientific gaps and opportunities common to these research communities and to discuss strategies for developing close-looped sensorimotor integrated smart prosthetics.

STEVE M. POTTER, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta
JOSE M. CARMENA, University of California, Berkeley
Testbed for Developing Direct Cortical Feedback of Proprioception for Smart Limb Prostheses - $75,000
These researchers will explore and solve problems in delivering artificial proprioception to improve the usefulness of limb prostheses. It is a synergy of in vitro and in vivo approaches, involving multielectrode array stimulation and recording of the cortex and cultured cortical tissue.

JEFFREY SCHWARTZ, PrincetonUniversity, Princeton, N.J.
TREENA LIVINGSTON ARINZEH, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark
JENNIFER ELLISSEFF, JohnsHopkinsUniversity, Baltimore
BOYD M. EVANS III, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tenn.
SARAH C. HEILSHORN, StanfordUniversity, Stanford, Calif.
JOERG LAHANN, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
ROGER J. NARAYAN, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
VILUPANUR A. RAVI, CaliforniaStatePolytechnicUniversity, Pomona
JUDITH STEIN, GE Global Research, Niskayuna, N.Y.
Transduction of Metabolic to Electric Energy Through Vectorial Cell Growth - $75,000
Microprocessor-based prostheses might benefit from in situ power generated by transduction of normal metabolic processes.  These researchers propose to develop a program to create arrays of myoblast-like cells on a scaffold using the electric eel as a guide; cells would develop an electrical potential through normal metabolic processes and this potential would be discharged through an external circuit.

The final grant will help sponsor a workshop on Scientific and Translational Issues in Sensorimotor Research that will bring together neuroscientists working on the neural basis of sensorimotor control, investigators developing cortical neuroprosthetics, and neurologists specializing in somatosensory disorders to identify scientific gaps and opportunities common to these research communities and to discuss strategies for developing close-looped sensorimotor integrated smart prosthetics.